Proper nutrition and exercise important for both cancer prevention and recovery

Carroll Hospital community nutrition educator Melanie Berdyck holds a MyPlate diagram.
Carroll Hospital community nutrition educator Melanie Berdyck holds a MyPlate diagram. (Jaime Ridgley)

Medical professionals agree that high-quality nutrition and regular exercise is vital for both cancer prevention and recovery.

"I think we can combat a lot of the problems with nutrition and exercise," said Dr. Dona Hobart, the medical director for the Center for Breast Health at Carroll Hospital. "When you feel better about yourself physically, you feel better mentally. Our goal is to improve overall wellness."


According to Hobart, women can reduce their breast cancer risk with proper nutrition and exercise.

"Three hours of exercise a week can reduce your risk of getting breast cancer up to 10 percent in post-menopausal women," Hobart said.


After a breast cancer diagnosis, Hobart said the risk of recurrence is higher when patients have a higher body mass index (BMI).

"The data says we need to address other issues and not just treat the breast cancer. Fat metabolizes things different than other cells," Hobart said.

Hobart said a large majority of people now survive breast cancer and doctors should use diagnoses to help patients improve their overall wellness.

"We want to get something good out of the bad," Hobart said. "We encourage patients to join the Embrace program, take yoga classes, and join the weight loss support group. Most important thing is that we talk about it. That's always the first step."


According to Carroll Hospital's community nutrition educator Melanie Berdyck, the American Institute for Cancer Research indicates that one-third of common cancers can be prevented through diet and lifestyle changes.

"A lot of this could be avoided if we just took better care of ourselves," Berdyck said. "That's not always the case because very healthy people can be diagnosed, too, but anything people can do to stay healthy will cause other positive changes in their life as well."

Berdyck said simple dietary changes like eating less processed food can lower sodium intake, improving overall health.

"Changing one style of eating can lead to positive changes," Berdyck said. "I do a monthly healthy eating 101 class that teaches nutrition for disease prevention. I encourage the class to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and I recommend a natural, unprocessed diet."

Berdyck said research indicates that increasing produce intake can lower cancer risk.

"The USDA MyPlate recommends half of your plate be fruits and vegetables," Berdyck said. "The average American eats 1.4 servings of vegetables a day. You should eat at least two cups of fruit and 2.5 vegetables a day."

Berdyck said vegetables and fruits can be "easily incorporated into any meal or snack."

"With your cereal or oatmeal, add banana or berries. With yogurt snack, add fruit. With a sandwich add a side salad or put on more lettuce and tomato," Berdyck said. "Smoothies should include a fruit and a vegetable like spinach and pineapple. Watch your portions. Some smoothies are loaded with sugar."

Berdyck also recommended swapping out higher calorie items like pretzels for lower calorie vegetables.

"Eat veggies with your hummus," Berdyck said. "Put a lot of veggies on your pizza instead of meat. Use black beans in brownie recipes. Throw extra vegetables in your soup and focus on beans or legumes. Look up recipes to hide vegetables in your food and be creative."

Berdyck said the hospital's Embrace program has helped with community education.

"We provided a weight loss and exercise program to cancer survivors last fall," she said. "We're hoping to offer it again in the next year but we're waiting on the funding."

Former Embrace members are raising money to fund the program through the upcoming Pink Fling.

Former Embrace program member Karen Belcher, of Eldersburg, has been cancer-free for one year. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer and had a mastectomy. She enrolled in the Embrace program through the Carroll Breast Healthcare Center.

"Embrace is more for your soul, mind and body," Belcher explained. "They give you lasting tools against cancer. Even when you're cancer-free, cancer does live in fat cells so you have to work hard for it to keep helping. The Embrace program gave me tools to do that."

Belcher said the program offered acupuncture, yoga, and tools to deal with the mental health and physical side effects of cancer.

"We met with Melanie for nutrition advice and we also went to the gym together for 8 weeks," Belcher said. "We'd weigh in and she would go over different things we could do and things to avoid. We were at the gym three times a week for an hour each time."

Belcher said she values the advice and friendships she made through the program.

"We all had different stories to tell because we were breast cancer survivors at different stages," Belcher said. "We all supported one another and as a whole, we did really well. We all lost inches and some pounds. Now we make a point to get together for lunch."

Belcher said the Embrace program was a "wonderful resource."

"I had wonderful support from my family but when you're a cancer patient, you're in a very lonely, dark place," Belcher said. "It's important that you have things like the Embrace program to help you. It focuses on things you can do to help you push through it and fight the cancer. When you hear the word 'cancer,' you feel helpless. It's all around you but when you get it yourself, it's terrifying. You find yourself relying on the experts and having help from the Carroll Cancer Center team was fantastic."



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